The students from the “Start-Up SPbU” can determine amine levels in blood in 30 minutes (amines are organic compounds which can tell about various diseases). A mobile express testing system can perform more than a third of all the tests you can normally take at the laboratory: cholesterol test, hormone testing, a myoglobin blood test, histamine testing, coagulation tests, and vitamin tests to name but a few.

  Innovations in materials

Today there are three laboratory techniques to identify amines: enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), chromatography and electrochemistry. Generally, an ELISA has a number of steps: separating bound from unbound molecules, developing products by an enzyme substrate. All these make it a time-consuming procedure and may result in low accuracy. Although the second technique allows more accuracy, it nevertheless needs a special, rather huge instrument - a chromatograph, which is rather costly, up to a half million of euros. The third technique is on the contrary a value-for-money and quick in test analysis, but the electrodes can be used only once and they are quite difficult to produce.

“We have found a new composite material to produce electrodes which is also selective to biogenic amines, — said an author of the project BioEl, student in “Chemistry, Physics and Mechanics of Materials” Valentine Ershov. — Now electrochemical techniques can detect necessary substances, and the electrodes can be used more than once, they became value-for-money, ultimately reduce the time needed for analysis to 20-30 minutes, and allow more accuracy and sensitivity”.

 

One molecule in a billion

The device is no bigger than a laptop: it has an electrochemical cell, electrodes, potentiostat/ galvanostat to control cell voltage, current and resistance and software to identify electrochemical response of the amines. What is more interesting is that you can use three electrodes at a time, which makes it possible to identify 10-12 substances immediately.

Another benefit is a high sensitivity: it can identify an amine molecule among a billiard of water molecules. It has a minimum probability of test error — it is less than 1 %, while a glucometer is accurate within 10–15 %. What is more, you can use it anywhere you like: to take blood tests in the Arctic, during pregnancy and in other conditions when getting to a lab may be difficult.

 

Signs and symptoms

The project BioEl is now being developed by the students in chemistry Valentine Ershov and Stepan Danilov, students in economics Vladimir Statsenko and Dmitrii Batchenko, and a dentist-to-be Arkadii Arushanian. The research is headed by Oleg Levin, Candidate of Chemistry, SPbU Associate Professor, head of the laboratory “Research group of materials for electrochemical power industry using metal-organic polymers”.

“Today amine identification in blood and other body fluids is vital in diagnostics, — said Oleg Levin. — If we tackle the problem in a proper way, we will be able to diagnose a number of conditions in good time: bleeding disorders, anemia, tumors, and identify causes of high blood pressure”.

 

From medicine to ecology

Apart from medicine, the new technique can be used to control amines in environment, drug-production, and foods industry. The amines are used in propellant fuel for missiles, and some of them are cancerogenes and can have a harmful effect on overall health, even can lead to death. The students also were thinking about developing a device, like nitrate nitrogen meters, to tell whether the sausages you are going to pick at the shop are fresh. Amines can tell you much about the food: whether the food past its use-by date or what it is made of.

“We are planning to collaborate with the industrial enterprises and environmental services which are responsible for water and air quality control, — said Vladimir Statsenko. —Medical laboratories however are now our priority. Our method will allow more accuracy of chromatography and reduce the costs. A number of big Russian enterprises are already interested in our project”.